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Unoccupied S. Wichita home demolished after third fire since October

WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) — This winter, the Wichita Fire Department responded to numerous vacant house fires on properties that had been illegally used as shelters. On Friday morning, crews responded to a fire at an empty house on South Broadway, the third there since October.

Addressing the problem, Wichita Fire accelerated demolition plans, prompting the City of Wichita to take action almost immediately. An excavator brought down the South Broadway home within hours on Friday afternoon.

The homeowner expressed relief that no one was injured in the latest fire, but said he has had constant problems since purchasing the property, in which the Wichita Fire Department has become familiar.

Demolition is not what Jonathan Roper and his wife intended when they bought the South Broadway home at an auction.

“We purchased this property about six months ago with the intention of renovating and leasing it,” said Roper, chief executive officer of Uptown LLC.

That’s what they’ve done to several other properties, but Roper said the South Broadway property is the first they’ve run into immediate problems with people breaking in and stealing items inside. He said they did everything they could to stop it.

“We cordoned off the property and spent a full $600 to $700 just closing every window, every single door,” Roper said. “People would come, open them, break in again.”

Roper said he has a standing order with the Wichita Police Department to enter and cite people illegally staying in the home.

“We get four or five letters a week from people who have been sued,” he said.

The Wichita Fire Department said crews responded to several vacant house fires that started with homeless people entering properties and trying to keep warm. Small fires for warmth spread rapidly.

The Wichita Fire Department is asking anyone who notices vacant property being used illegally to report the situation.

“Wichita Police Department [Homeless Outreach Team] and be able to contact some agencies that may be able to help with homelessness or to find shelter,” said Jose Ocadiz, Wichita Fire Department Battalion Chief.

Roper said she hopes something pans out, so a situation like the one that occurred with her South Broadway property isn’t the end result for more empty homes slated for renovation.

“The homeless population in Wichita, certainly in that area, there’s a huge problem that needs to be addressed,” he said.

Roper said they were looking to auction the South Broadway property after the latest fire, but before that could happen, they were notified by the city of plans to tear down the house. The Wichita Fire Department said that if someone sees an empty home or building that needs to be boarded up, they should contact the metropolitan area department of building and construction or the homeowners association.

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